Art by Madeline Duvall
Pepperdine is known for its Instagram-worthy views and photo opportunities, not leaving any wonder as to why the University’s @pepperdine accounts stay an active resource for community members. Students, however, find Pepperdine’s social media pages confusing as the account shifts from sunset photos to important notices and back again.
In the era of online classes, it’s paramount that the administration finds effective ways to communicate with its students outside of social media.
Pepperdine administering classes virtually this semester forces many students to engage in online communication more than ever before. Students now use their electronic devices for everything from school and work to entertainment and social interaction. This juggling act is difficult for Pepperdine students, whose reliance on online resources is made even more challenging by the university’s inconsistent digital communication.
Pepperdine has maintained a social media presence for over a decade, with active Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts among others. These public profiles are regularly updated with highlight videos, event promotions and informative reminders about deadlines for International Program applications, housing contracts and more.
In the age of remote instruction, Pepperdine uses its social media profiles to connect with students by being more active online. While shifting the line of crisis communication to include and prioritize social media seems like it would more directly involve students in Pepperdine’s affairs — since some students are spending more time on social media than they did before social distancing — it has backfired, as more community members find Pepperdine’s online presence confusing and contradictory.
The University’s level of communication continues to falter, with a lack of clear information on essential topics such as employment, COVID-19 policy and other updates that are unavailable outside of one-time events such as the President’s Briefing. Information previously spread through word of mouth, posters and student organizations is now delivered virtually.
Despite the difficulties of communicating online, Pepperdine still has a responsibility to stay in contact with students beyond its social media presence, and administrators cannot expect that all students will see and read all posts.
Beyond Pepperdine’s official pages, University-related information is also delivered to students through profiles run by Pepperdine International Programs, Student Employment Office, Housing and Residence Life and the Counseling Center; this information is typically not communicated on the Pepperdine website or through email notification.
There are also dozens of Pepperdine-related profiles run by students that could create further confusion and misinformation. The only distinction between these student-run accounts and the official @pepperdine account is a small blue check mark, which can be easy to miss for students scrolling on social media.
Additionally, Pepperdine only shares some of the information discussed in weekly President’s Briefings via social media. While we acknowledge and appreciate the administration transitioning the briefings to Wednesday mornings so all students can attend, the lack of transparency regarding information disclosed in the President’s Briefing, such as Pepperdine financial statements and enrollment numbers that are not publicly available, poses a problem for students trying to stay informed.
Because the President’s Briefing provides a unique avenue of two-way conversation between students and administrators, it needs to remain open and accessible for all — including students who have questions left unanswered during the meeting. This form of access is also essential because, despite increasing its social media presence, Pepperdine does not respond to comments left on social pages, meaning the question and answer portion of the briefing is one of the few ways students’ voices are heard.
First-year students participated in fall 2020 New Student Orientation activities primarily through social media or through the Pepperdine app. When the app initially launched NSO, troubles with location tracking caused many students to fall behind, and this delayed access kept many out of the loop throughout orientation. As a result, some first-years did not receive notifications about the changes made to their schedules, opportunities to join clubs or meet their peers, and access to language placement exams.
Pepperdine’s move to social media as the front-line of University communication shows a lack of responsibility for the messages shared as well as a misunderstanding of the medium.
Social media itself is an unreliable form of communication, as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter algorithms decide which posts will appear on each user’s feed. Neglecting to interact with all of Pepperdine’s social profiles can skew the algorithm against a student’s favor and prevent them from seeing the University’s updates.
Students already face problems managing the increased demand for online engagement in classes and student organizations without having to worry that their University’s social media pages are announcing vital changes that affect their lives without notice.
As everyone — including administration — adjusts to online life, the best way to move forward is to send essential information in the form of comprehensible weekly email updates that tell students what they need to know about Pepperdine life.
Pepperdine does not require students to maintain social media profiles, but they do mandate that students maintain a Pepperdine email account. Administration utilized this function to great effect in the past, even going so far as to send everyone with a pepperdine.edu Gmail account a prayer every day for 100 days following President Gash’s inauguration.
Using email will ensure every member of the Pepperdine community receives updates — not only those who like the University’s pictures on Instagram.
For clubs, student groups and other Pepperdine niches, students should be able to subscribe to newsletters or view website resources for more information. Peppervine is a resource clubs and other student groups neglect that could be optimized for student use and accessibility beyond following dozens of Instagram pages.
Continuing President Gash’s theme of belonging, students will find a stronger sense of belonging to their University and their community when their school invests in communication not through snazzy Instagram stories but through critical information distribution.
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